Local Politics

N.C. departments struggling with budget cuts

Posted September 27, 2010 12:44 p.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2010 7:10 p.m. EDT

State budget

— Facing an estimated $3 billion shortfall for the 2011-12 budget year, North Carolina's state's budget director has asked all state department heads to plan for spending reductions of up to 15 percent.

Those suggested cuts are due Oct. 29, but department leaders say they are struggling with where to cut.

Since 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, has cut $2 billion from its budget. The juvenile justice department has cut $22 million, which is 15 percent of its original budget.

With nine juvenile detention centers and eight youth development centers across the state, it's quite likely at least one may close, says William Lassiter, with the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

"We've already had to lose after-school programming. We've already had to lose mentoring programs," Lassiter said. "This year, if we have to take additional cuts, we have to look at facility cuts."

An additional 15 percent cut would bring the department's budget allocation to the lowest level ever.

"If you cut anymore, you'll be cutting into core services that will affect public safety," Lassiter said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler says facilities are safe. What's in jeopardy are the services.

"There may be some services that we say we can't do anymore," Cansler said. "There may be some services (where) we reduce the scope and do less."

Cansler wouldn't specify what could be eliminated but said everyone would likely be affected in some way. He says a 15 percent reduction for DHHS equates to roughly $600 million.

"We are searching right now on how to do it," Cansler said. "I don't know how we're going to accomplish it. We're reviewing everything."

It's a message shared by other departments – the Department of Transportation, the Department of Correction, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and state universities.

"Well, it's painful," said Holden Thorp, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "We're talking about fewer classes, inadequate support."

Gov. Beverly Perdue said she wants to focus on eliminating programs and services that are no longer effective, reducing layers of management and administration and consolidating where possible.

She also believes the tough cuts ahead are no different from what families and businesses are facing.

"We have to do more with less, and I know the agency heads and the folks who work for North Carolina will step up and do their best," Perdue said.

The 2010-11 state budget totaled about $19 billion, down about $800 million from the year before.

Losers included the Personal Care Services program, which saw $50 million cut from efforts to provide in-home aid to the elderly and disabled; and Perdue's attempt to introduce hand-held devices to help teachers in lower grades assess student performance, which received $10 million instead of the requested $39 million.